Bumped

I got bumped yesterday. Emotionally, not physically. In general, I consider myself to operate on a relatively even keel. Steady. Unflappable. But over time, I am coming to realize that as stresses pile up, I feel shaky and uncertain.

Like many people, the uncertainties of COVID-19 has had a significant effect upon me. I have been aware of a simmering anxiety for a couple of weeks now, a whispering shadow that lurks in the cobwebbed corners of my mind. It hasn’t devolved into full blown panic, yet its murmuring is incessant.

Even after nearly 25 years as a trained counselor, I continue to learn new lessons about my emotional life. One of the things that I have more recently discovered is that anger is my prime emotion, what those who are familiar with the Enneagram might call my core passion. But my anger rarely boils over, it simmers. When we were first dating, my wife would often say “Jason got so angry about that.” Not coincidentally, I would get irritated when she said that because I truly did not believe I was an angry person. I didn’t blow up or yell. Twenty-five years together and I’m beginning to understand she was right. I am continuing to work on understanding the complex interplay of my emotions, but one thing is becoming more obvious to me: I am likely to experience a variety of emotions as variants of anger. When I get anxious, it may come out as irritation. When I feel sad, I can feel resentful. Shame leads to self-deprecation.

COVID-19 and all of the changes it has brought in its wake has made me anxious and sad, but I am also discovering that those emotions are spilling out as anger, resentment, or irritation. Two mornings ago, I felt irritated that my son was breathing too loudly and I told him to breathe more quietly. Yesterday, a friend shared a political position that was different than mine and I could feel irritation boiling up within me. It spilled over as I expressed how tired I am of all of the divisiveness. My gut reaction was to view him as guilty, but I quickly recognized those same tendencies within myself, Paul’s words in Romans 2:1 (NIV) flashed through my mind, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

I long for serenity regardless of circumstance. I want to develop an internal stillness that remains steady even when I am bumped. If my cup runs over, I want it to overflow with the love of Christ and not with anger.

I want to conclude with the text of this prayer from Reinhold Niebuhr, a prayer that was adapted by Alcoholics Anonymous as the “serenity prayer.” My friend Perry, a fellow pilgrim who has been helping me to see the impact of my anger, shared this version yesterday.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Unsettled.

I’ve been off lately. Unsettled. Between COVID-19, multiple health issues in our extended family, and my oldest daughter’s fast approaching wedding, I have not felt as grounded as a sometimes do. Unfortunately, my emotions tend to come out sideways and in ways that I do not intend. Consistent with my personality style, when I am feeling off-center, I tend to resort to anger–toward myself, others, and the universe. I am usually too constrained for it to come out as rage. Rather, it comes out as irritation, resentment, audible sighs, or a critical spirit. My friend and pastor had the courage to point this out to me recently and it has been eye opening.

Maybe you’ve felt unsettled too. The idea that we are living in the midst of a pandemic is unsettling. Perhaps like me, the churning waters within and without lead to anger. Maybe for you, it comes out as fear, flattery, or withdrawal. Pay attention to those emotional responses. They are great teachers if we will listen.

Running parallel to my unsettledness has been a desire to understand what it looks like to love well in the midst of chaos. Specifically, what does it look like to love up, down, in, and out? I haven’t come to any firm conclusions, but I do have a lot of questions. How do I understand what it looks like to love God and experience God’s love for me when I feel unsteady? How can I use this time to grow in self-knowledge and self-compassion? What passions arise within me and how well do they align with who I want to be? How do I grow in grace toward others when we are encouraged to keep our distance or when we observe them behaving in obviously self-centered ways? How do I understand my role as a global citizen and a steward of creation? How can I foster truth, goodness, and beauty when so much seems broken?

Again, I don’t have clear answers, but these are the sorts of things I think about. Maybe you are too. It is good and important for us to consider how to be beacons of light when so much seems dark.